AGLIFF review – ‘Political Animals’

Christine Kehoe, Carole Migden, Sheila Kuehl, and Jackie Goldberg star in "Political Animals."
        Christine Kehoe, Carole Migden, Sheila Kuehl, and Jackie Goldberg star in “Political Animals.”

“This is personal. There is no definition of family that does not include my family.”  

When you think about California politics, the color blue springs to mind. It is one of the most progressive states in the nation and often stands out as a Democratic stronghold. Of course, it hasn’t always been that way. The phenomenal new documentary from Jonah Markowitz introduces us to some of the women who came along, got involved, and shaped the future of gay rights across the state and beyond its borders.

Despite the work of activists and politicians like Harvey Milk in California, LGBT rights in the state were barely discussed until the late-1990s. After Governor Pete Wilson vetoed a gay rights bill in 1991, acts of civil disobedience began to inspire a new generation of people ready to fight for change. Without any gay politicians representing California’s gay residents, it was easier to sweep those controversial issues under the rug for the overwhelmingly straight white men serving the state.

Sheila Kuehl was a civil rights attorney and law professor who had some notoriety for starring in the television show “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” back in the ’60s. In 1994, she became the first openly gay person to be elected to the California legislature. It took her three attempts to get a bill passed in the state to protect LGBT children from bullying at school. It didn’t pass until in 1999.

By that time, Sheila had a little extra help on the floor thanks to Carole Migden. A longtime activist who had worked with Harvey Milk, she joined the state assembly in 1996. Jackie Goldberg and Christine Kehoe followed in 2000 and, with four out lesbians working in the state legislature, they were able to dedicate their voices to passing meaningful civil rights protections for the LGBT community. Faced with open hostility from some of the most conservative members that they served with, these four pioneering women focused on knocking down claims of a “radical gay agenda” by explaining how fundamental equal rights belong to everybody.

“Political Animals” is filled with actual footage of debates on the state assembly floor. Some of the comments made are still shocking and it’s hard to realize that it’s only our not-that-distant past that brought about basic protections and the freedom to love whoever you choose. California was ahead of the curve of most states on domestic partnerships and, ultimately, gay marriage. This is an essential historical document that proves it never could’ve happened without these passionate women and their willingness to fight.

“Political Animals” screened as the Centerpiece Film of AGLIFF this year. The film does not yet have U.S. distribution. 

Author: Matt Shiverdecker

Matt spent over 12 years as on-air host and Music Director at He is a freelance contributor to the Austin American-Statesman.

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